The grand opening of Washington, D.C.’s only Planned Parenthood clinic Sept. 26 was marred by two dozen protesters who swarmed the facility’s headquarters outside a celebratory launch gala attended by notables including Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and actress Kathleen Turner.
The facility, named the Carol Whitehill Moses Center, is strategically located in Northeast D.C. so as to be accessible from all parts of the District. The 27,000-square-foot clinic will serve as the administrative headquarters for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington and is expected to provide services to more than 12,000 people in its first year.
The $20 million facility includes six nonsurgical exam rooms and four procedure rooms, making it larger than the two D.C. clinics that shut down in the past two years.
The Carol Whitehill Moses Center directly replaces one in downtown D.C. that closed in June 2015 after 40 years of service. Another clinic in Southeast D.C. closed in 2014. Maryland hosts three other locations in Suitland, Gaithersburg and Silver Spring, close to the metropolitan area.
The Carol Whitehill Moses Center Vice President of External Relations Mara Braunger said the location’s opening is the product of years of planning and represents the core of Planned Parenthood.
“We are thrilled. This has been years in the making,” Braunger said. “The current facility not only encompasses our values, of our dignity and of the Planned Parenthood brand but also is a fantastic anchor for a vibrant resource center in Northeast D.C.”
Van Hollen, who attended the center’s opening gala, said he fought attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in the Senate so more locations nationwide will have access to reproductive rights.
“It will provide vital health services to women and men across the region,” Hollen wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Planned Parenthood makes every effort to provide a safe and welcoming environment for its patients and employees, and I am confident this new facility will be welcomed as a vital health resource in the community.”
Prior to the opening of the new D.C. Planned Parenthood, the organization operated weekly clinics out of the Shaw-based nonprofit Bread for the City, which provides low-income D.C. residents with comprehensive services.
Bread for the City Communications Manager Karen Byer said the partnership between the two organizations proved beneficial for the community.
“We were pleased to open up our center to PP of DC,” Byer wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We see ourselves as community partners and we were happy that we could play a small role in their expansion.”
The clinic offers services to both men and women including breast and pelvic exams, emergency contraception, same-day birth control, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, HPV vaccines and abortion services.
In 2015, Planned Parenthood served more than 20,000 people in the D.C. area. According to a Sept. 27 article from The Washington Post, 12,000 women used its birth control and 19,000 people were treated for sexually transmitted diseases last year. Fifty-four percent of its patients were women of color and 42 percent were 25 or younger.
Braunger said Planned Parenthood works to serve low-income patients who might not otherwise have access to medical services. Additionally, she cited the facility as a space for people to receive services without stigma or criticism.
“Planned Parenthood across the nation fills needs for low-income women and men and even more than that in the beacon of safety, where people can come for a variety of reproductive health services where they are treated in supportive manner,” Braunger said. “And no matter what service, they receive it without any judgment. I’m not sure that a whole lot of medical facilities can stand behind that type of brand promise.”
Amelia Irvine (COL ’19), president of anti-abortion student group Vita Saxa, said opening a new clinic was unnecessary given the presence of three other clinics in the D.C. area.
“I regard this clinic’s opening as deeply saddening, but I ultimately understand that this is no great accomplishment for Planned Parenthood,” Irvine wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Women have other options in D.C. for obtaining contraceptives, primary care, STI testing and cancer screening, and thus the opening of this Planned Parenthood clinic only hurts women in the District.”
After construction of the clinic began in September 2015, anti-abortion activists clashed with the neighboring Two Rivers Public Charter School. According to a December 2015 lawsuit filed by the school’s board of trustees, the alleged protesters heckled children as young as 3 years old by displaying images of aborted fetuses.
In July, protesters accepted the terms of an injunction to limit their activity near the school. According to the injunction, the protesters are not allowed to interact with anyone on school grounds.
Though Irvine said she disagreed with the tactics used by these protesters, she is troubled by the clinic’s proximity to the elementary school.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for pro-life protesters to deliberately show graphic images of any sort to children,” Irvine wrote. “It is highly inappropriate for the clinic to be located next to an elementary school. My first concern is for post-abortive women; I can’t imagine seeing an elementary school or children at recess after undergoing an abortion.”
The new facility was designed to protect its workers from protesters, with security guards checking in guests at the entrance. Additionally, employees can leave through an outdoor courtyard instead of the main entrance to avoid abortion protesters.
Safety measures were brought on in light of multiple high-profile attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics, one of the most recent occurring when Robert Lewis Dear Jr. shot and killed three and injured nine more at a Colorado Springs clinic last November.
H*yas for Choice Co-President Emily Stephens (COL ’18) said she agrees that employee safety is a large concern for the new clinic.
“Most Planned Parenthoods face pretty much constant protest. That’s why there are clinic escorts who go and stand outside as a counterbalance to the protesters and escort people who are actually using the clinic inside,” Stephens said. “D.C. is lucky because they have a really well-established clinic escort program.”
Braunger said as an employee of Planned Parenthood, she is confident enough in its safety measures to feel secure working there.
“The way Planned Parenthood works is we have a very realistic view of safety and making sure that the safety of our patients comes as a priority. And so if I didn’t feel secure and comfortable I wouldn’t work here,” Braunger said. “It’s top priority and we have a very strong safety record, we have multilayered protocol in place, we have a very good relationship with all levels of law enforcement. And so I feel as comfortable working here as I would anywhere in the District.”
Correction: A previous version of this article listed Mara Braunger as the president of external relations. She is the vice president. The center opened on Sept. 26, not 27 in Northeast D.C. Additionally, the previous version stated federal funds were used to construct the building, which is incorrect. No federal funds were used.
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